After learning how to cross the street in Ho Chi Minh through a jungle of motorcycles, we were comfortable walking from our hotel to the night market and through the nearby streets with all kinds of shops, including one that sold silk fabric. There were vendors with flowers, noodles, fruit and other goods for sale.
For the first time in Southeast Asia, we encountered beggars. It had been explained to us that we would meet many desperately poor people in the cities and that if we couldn’t afford to give to everyone, we could at least give them dignity by looking them straight in the eye with a gentle greeting instead of looking through them. It was good advice.
While in Vietnam, we took a day tour which included an articulate guide named Binh. When he wasn’t narrating, he sat beside me and told me about his young son and the hopes he had for him. Binh was wonderfully informative and not afraid to tell us what was wrong with the present government in Vietnam.
We were taken to a large workshop where victims of land mines worked to create crafts decorated with colorful bits of eggshell and mother-of-pearl. After lunch, we strolled through the trees and passed several homes with very large monuments. These contained the graves of deceased family members. Ancestor worship is very much a part of Vietnamese culture.
We soon arrived at a small dock where we boarded rowboats, four people each, to be taken down a creek to where it joined the mighty Mekong River. Our crossing of that amazing body of water in a passenger ferry had the effect of silencing all but the most urgent conversations. At points, the Mekong is one and a half kilometers wide. Along the shore we saw wrecks pulled up out of the murky water. It was quite a contrast from our quiet visit to the farm!
At 4:45 a.m. the morning of April 18, we were up and in the dining room of the Blue Diamond Hotel for a breakfast specially laid out for us by the extraordinarily attentive staff. We were leaving Vietnam for a few days by bus for a trip to Cambodia where we would meet missionary friends of Maestro Simon. The journey was meant to be four hours long by bus. It certainly didn’t end up that way. Unfortunately, we were traveling during the annual Tet celebration and nearly everyone was going from the cities to the countryside and back again.
Things had gone fairly well as we passed from Vietnam into the Kingdom of Cambodia, although the border crossing was eerily quiet with an awkward moment when we bus passengers were asked en masse to relinquish our passports to the customs people.
I couldn’t imagine how they would get them all back to us but in a very few minutes, when all the necessary papers were checked, our names were called and we retrieved the little blue booklet with a new visa stamp inside and re-boarded the bus. Less than an hour later, we were caught in spectacular gridlock still far from Phnom Penh, our destination. All around us, small buses were loaded past capacity with extra riders on the roofs.
It must have been dreadful up there in the scorching heat but there was nothing to be done, or so we thought.
Finally, after two hours, our driver bribed a traffic policeman and we began inching our way to the ferry crossing and that is a story for next time!